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Teens And Seniors Bridging the Digital Divide
Taran Rampersad, 6 Aug 04

On the EDC Digital Divide mailing list, Jim Buie was kind enough to point us all at an article he wrote for the Washington Post: 'Bridging the Digital Divide: Teens Help Seniors Go Online'.

This is really a great solution in that it allows the teenagers to interact with the elderly - and in doing so, it fortifies their own knowledge while allowing the elderly better access to the technology that many people take for granted. Some excerpts from the article:

Ben Avin, a 91-year-old retired history professor from the University of Virginia, is exchanging e-mail with his daughter in Texas.

Walter Morse, 77, a retired government attorney, is doing caricatures with the help of advanced computer technology.

And Lillian Kline, 80, just wowed her family by sending a video e-mail. She also receives frequent dispatches from her grandson in Russia...

...But what's most necessary, says Huth, is connecting older Americans with friends, loved ones and young people over the Internet. He is vice president of the Barcklow Foundation, which focuses on improving the quality of life for the nation's senior citizens. The initial reaction to the technology at the Hebrew Home was underwhelming, Rachel and Allison say. Wary residents found the computer keyboard confusing. They "didn't know what a 'file' was," Rachel says.

But the girls persisted. The Tablet PC laptop could translate handwriting into text and voice into text, record and send video e-mail and allow users to teleconference with friends and family. As the girls held the residents' hands, figuratively and literally, they began to catch on.

Avin, the retired history professor, initially thought a computer could only offer him headaches. "I may not choose to participate in this," he groused early on. Recently he said proudly, "I have been inducted into the world of computers." ...

In the article, I think the positive impact on the teenagers wasn't really addressed - but consider this. These teenagers now have a better understanding of the technology, and they also know how to explain it better. This means better communication skills, as well as better ability to deal with people outside their age group.

And imagine the reservoirs of knowledge that can be unleashed from each elderly person. Imagine a 91 year-old history professor's perspective on the last century. Imagine the things that he can remember and share.

In the end, when it comes to helping to change our world, it boils down to people helping people. And this looks like a situation where technology is bringing diverse people closer - instead of what it normally does.

Imagine if you would, that we burned the books of history for the last 91 years. If we don't help the elderly share what they know, it's quite possible that we are effectively doing this.

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